Nuclear tailspin

When it comes to matters of mass life and mass death, it is best to think in simple, even simplistic, terms. And so it is when flagging the urgency for a nuclear arms freeze in South Asia. The fact that newspapers and columnists rarely refer to it hardly means that the Sub-continent is not engaged in a nuclear arms race, which it is. India has come out with its Draft Nuclear Doctrine and Pakistan has announced the command-and-control structure of its nuclear programme. There has been a hardening of nuclear postures on both sides and, like little boys messing for a fight, there is too easy a recourse to the use of threat of nuclear annihilation. This is dangerous to the extreme, but the level of concern (and outright fear) which ought to be there, is simply missing.

By testing its nuclear weaponry in May 1998 at Pokhran, New Delhi's politicians, bureaucrats and scientists set off a lethal trigger, not limited to Pakistan's entirely unnecessary response with its own nuclear blasts at Chaghai. What we saw subsequently was an adventurism by the Pakistani military in Kargil, which was obviously linked to the supposed umbrella provided by its nuclear capability.

The threat by religio-political fanatics on both sides of the Attari-Wagah divide to use nuclear weapons to blast the enemy off the map may be dismissed by some as just so much bombast. But when the danger is of unprecedented mayhem the kind that the world has never, never seen, should we not be speaking of pulling back from the nuclear precipice? Should we not be reminding ourselves that here, in South Asia, with two governments actually planning for the eventuality of a nuclear war, we are probably the closest to Armageddon than any other sets of adversaries have ever been? To be sure, the loose talk concerning use of nuclear weaponry that we have heard in India and Pakistan, did not occur in the US-Soviet nuclear arms race (in retrospect, so much more civilised).

There was a conference of South Asian antinuclear scholars and activists called in Dhaka in the middle of February, which sought to try and arrest the nuclear tailspin that all us South Asians are willy-nilly part of at this stage. Unfortunately, because 'peacenik' is a dirty word among the analysts who pander so successfully to the politico-military complexes of South Asia, the very sanity of the conclusions of this conference seems to have been reason enough for the nationalist media in India and Pakistan to ignore its recommendations.

As for the members of the intelligentsia of the smaller neighbours of Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, they seem to have put their intellectualism in cold-storage when it comes to analysing the distressing nuclear scenario we are all faced with. When will the entire region wake up to the realisation that the nuclear arms race in South Asia is very much everyone's concern and not something to be left only to the professor sahibs and sahibas of the Jawaharlal Nehru University? When will the reality strike that work is actually progressing to develop not just nuclear devices but nuclear bombs, and equally to have delivery systems in place so that missiles can quickly fly the few minutes required to cross each other's frontiers to finish the other side off? When will we come to the tragi-comic realisation that missiles were actually invented as the delivery weapons of choice for atom and hydrogen bombs because the United States and the Soviet Union are widely separated by ocean, and that in South Asia it is the simplest thing for a nuclear device to be put in a largish trunk and placed in downtown Lahore or Amritsar? (There is nothing to it.)

The Dhaka conference made some sane suggestions —it demanded that India and Pakistan (when it comes to de-escalation, both have to act at once, and not one before the other) immediately freeze and dismantle their nuclear armament and missile programmes. To be more specific, the delegates called on New Delhi and Islamabad to confirm the following:

a) No assembly of weapons
b) No 'mating' of weapons with delivery systems
c) No deployment, no induction of nuclear weapons
d) No further testing of nuclear weapons
e)  No further missile tests or acquisition delivery aircraft
f)  Freeze on further production (military or civilian) of weapons useable fissile materials
g) Public accountability regarding veracity and efficacy of the freeze.

If we have any imagination and any honesty, then the above list should be like a mantra that we must see through to implementation on behalf of the more than one billion people of South Asia, who constitute one-fifth of all humanity.

And as far as India and Pakistan are concerned, please let us not look to Bill Clinton as Uncle Sam to help out on this one. Let us do this one ourselves. It is our mass life.

Loading content, please wait...
Himal Southasian